Sunday, May 1, 2011

Neuroscience for Architecture

By Cray Shellenbarger

As designers, we should understand the effect of an environment on the inhabitants. I have discussed this in the blog before but as my research continues I find new avenues and approaches to understanding this. Recently, I came across the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. They held a workshop to explore the detailed effects of stimuli in an environment and there actual affect on the physical human brain. I say physical here because the ideas of a physical brain and human consciousness are separated here.

It is true that various parts of the brain respond to different types of visual stimuli. Some sections seem to respond to color or contrast while others respond to movement. However, the article stresses that we should not think of the brain as a group of sections that work independently of one another. The brain works as a network as it interprets information. If it did not work this way there would be no way for it to sort and process all of the stimuli we encounter. The article goes on to list the attributes of space: shapes, color, thermal conditions, light and sound. On this Frank Pitts goes on to say, “If we truly knew what happens in the brain when humans experience space, and if we knew why they have these experiences, then we would be able to approach design with a much deeper knowledge base, be creative at another level, design something that really sings.” I believe this quote sums up what my thesis work attempts to begin to accomplish.

Carol Frenning mentions the idea that we need to “understand key elements that define the threshold for a place, beyond which it is no longer considered the same.” This is in regards to the renovation of a current spiritual place. I believe that this applies to all space. Every space has a set of attributes. As these attribute are manipulated, the space slowly begins to change identities. How far can we push these boundaries before the place actually becomes another type of space? These questions are not really given to be answered. They are almost rhetorical in that they are meant simply to produce thought. These concepts are things that need to be discussed in a manner that will force us to think along these parameters.

Another concept I’ve come across is Neuroaesthetics. This concept explores the fact that we may be hard-wired to interpret a space in a certain way. Also, it is a branch of neuroscience that attempts to understand the human aesthetic experience at a physical, neurological level. Neuroaesthetics attempts to quantify the human experience. Why do certain pieces of artwork or architecture have a particular affect on the human brain? It explores the concept of contrast, grouping, visual metaphors, symmetry and generic viewpoint.

The above mentioned ideas are seriously important in the future development of architecture. By understanding them, designers can create vastly better environments for the user. The buildings can become a sort of interface for our consciousness. We must look not only at what types of material or amount of money is available but at how our spaces impact the individual. In my opinion, the architect’s goal should be the welfare of the occupants, not the welfare of his bank account.

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